New drop-in centre for homeless community opens in Fredericton

·3 min read
New drop-in centre for homeless community opens in Fredericton
New drop-in centre for homeless community opens in Fredericton

A new drop in centre in Fredericton provides a place for the city's homeless population to go during the pandemic, and the people running the facility hope it will become a permanent fixture in the community.

The Phoenix Learning Centre on Woodstock Road is filling a void left by the pandemic — a place for the vulnerable population to go during the daytime.

COVID-19 guidelines forced the homeless community to stay on the streets with closures and tightened restrictions around safe places to get out of the elements.

Joni Chiovers has been homeless for four years, and said once the pandemic closed up businesses and public spaces, like the library, she would spend the day walking around aimlessly.

"I just walked around all day, most of the day or slept in parks," she said.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

Chiovers, who sleeps at the out-of-the-cold shelter on Brunswick Street, said she lost everything to a drug addiction following her son's death.

"I gave everything up for drugs because I didn't want it to hurt no more," said Chiovers, adding that she's in recovery now.

Frederick O'Donnell, 59, has been homeless for three years, and said it's still a learning process to survive.

"It's a learn as you go thing, I guess," he said.

Chiovers and O'Donnell are two of the 28 people that are relying on the new Phoenix Learning Centre as a place to take shelter during the weekdays.

"I can come have a shower, a cup of coffee, I can lay down and sleep if I want," said Chiovers, who says she has a yoga mat that she sleeps on.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

O'Donnell doesn't like to sit still, and has been busy cleaning up the centre's property to pass his time.

He bagged 67 bags of leaves earlier this week. The work wasn't required for him to do, but he's grateful for a place to go during the day.

"Who wants to live in a snowbank, not me?" O'Donnell said, adding that he has a place to live as of Dec. 1.

The Phoenix Learning Centre is an extension of the River Stone Recovery Centre, a newly opened addictions treatment facility in Fredericton's downtown.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

Scott Earle, the coordinator of the Phoenix Learning Centre, said the centre was able to open because of COVID-19 relief funding from the Canadian Medical Association, through the city.

The centre is in place until the beginning of December, but Earle is confident that it will stay open longer than that, and hopefully permanently.

"Our end goal is to end homelessness, but we have to take baby steps doing it," he said, adding that the pandemic added extra stress to the vulnerable population.

Since the Phoenix Learning Centre opened, Earle said staff helped one person write a resume, and that he hopes the centre can have an impact on people's lives.

"I have a house to go home to… these people don't," he said.

The Phoenix Learning Centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed for an hour at lunchtime.